3 Essentials of Short Stories, and a Good Reason To Write Some

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Here’s a great strategy for emerging as a writer. By emerge I mean get noticed by agents, by editors, even by the curators of writing blogs. Writing short stories can elevate your career. They will even help you connect with your peers in your writing life.

Short stories don’t result in much pay, at first. However, they can be your calling card as a writer. They are quicker to read than a novel and show off more of your skills in just the amount of time it takes to read 10 pages. That can be as many as 3,000 words of writing. A powerful story does not have to be longer than that.

In essence, the short story is an audition for a bigger role, as a book author. Your pieces of unfinished novels might even supply the ore that you can smelt into the good metal of a story.

There are three fundamentals to create short story. An immediate hook that reveals what a main character desires. A sense of place for the action, shaped by description and aided by characterization. The most important of these, though, is action that occurs in scene. Short stories need something to happen.

You can write other kinds of short stories, full of lyric prose and feats of language magic. You should, perhaps, as your dessert for when you’ve finished something. But only a short story will show off the most foundational skill of writing. Telling a story, with structure, in a space of just 20 minutes of time to read.

Today’s readers are busy. Shorts stories can make something happen in scenes that comes alive.

Journalism Supplies Emotional Skills For Stories

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reporterNot everyone who writes for a career has a writing degree. It’s common to see the letters MFA, for Master of Fine Arts, behind a name of an instructor or an accomplished writer. But there’s another degree — really a set of practices and studies — that delivers compelling writing. Bloggers, who tell stories all the time in great numbers, are starting to rely on the skills of a degreed journalist. The thinking is that journalism, as practiced by a professional with experience, gives you a great storytelling voice. The reporter’s.

Over on the Write to Done website, a handful of tips help writers become better earners while practicing their craft. Once you go beyond the joy of writing for the experience of creation — what I call The Writing Life — you can graduate to a Writing Career. You don’t have to pursue a career, of course. Becoming a writer who earns a living with their storytelling is the entry to a Writing Career.

Journalism skills, in the voice of the reporter, are the Number 1 talent in the Write to Done article. It says, in part

#1. Draw them in with story.

Many writers feel their job is to merely convey information, and so that’s what most of us do: We put numbered lists and ultimate guides on our blogs, or enumerate the benefits of our copywriting clients’ products in a brochure — and then sit back and wait for the accolades to roll in. Oops. The fact is, no matter what kind of writing you do, your job is to connect with readers by telling stories.

Sure, those stories will convey information, but they will also help readers understand your info emotionally as well as logically. Pick up any women’s health magazine and you’ll see articles that lead off with an anecdote about a woman who survived a dread disease. Scan through a business publication and you’ll notice stories of entrepreneurs who increased their profits through the downturn, or hired homeless people, or succeeded despite going up against big box stores. Parenting articles are rife with anecdotes from real moms.

You can use the same technique in your web pages, blogs, and books. Instead of listing your client’s amazing qualities in a brochure, tell a story about how their product improved someone’s life. Rather than writing “just the facts, ma’am” in your book or blog post about time management tactics, weave a story about a hopeless case who turned his life around by learning to manage his time.

Using storytelling techniques like journalists do will not just teach your readers, but make them care about what they’re learning.

The idea of making someone care about your writing is important. It gives your stories emotional weight, heft, and leaves the reader sticking to what’s being told. The journalist’s craft — really, an art considering how few words we get to use — can be supplemented by extended work in setting, and in dialogue. Most journalism doesn’t build scene as extensively as fiction, or creative non-fiction. But the exemplary writing does. It’s the kind that can sell an app, or make a reader cry. Journalists have something call a nut-graf, the paragraph in the story early on that lets the reader know “why should I care?” Journalists set the stakes early in their brief stories. Early stakes is an essential part of good storytelling. You can read a lot of literature where the stakes are hidden, or not even considered, in lieu of the beauty of the language. Beauty is essential, but not at the expense of story — if your writing will be memorable.

Memories make up memoirs, and that’s another place where storytelling becomes essential. A mid-grade memoir, one that won’t find a wide readership, is going to be bogged down by too many details and too little emotion. It takes the structure of a story, illustrated by memorable places and lively scenes and drama, to make an exemplary one. Good journalism is easy to find in places like the website longreads.com.